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Structural Engineering Degrees: Program Information by Level

Degree programs in structural engineering train students to evaluate design principles, review environmental factors and examine building materials. Programs are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels, with more specialized coursework offered at the graduate level.

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Essential Information

Structural engineering bachelor's programs help students prepare for engineering licensure and may lead to careers as draftsmen, junior engineers or architect assistants. Students learn about structural design and construction management.

Master's programs usually offer concentrations in areas like mechanics or structural aeronautics, and graduates may work as contractors, structural engineering teachers or project managers. These programs include research, projects and advanced courses in engineering and construction.

Doctoral programs in structural engineering can prepare students for careers in research and college-level instruction. While advanced structural engineering coursework and a dissertation are generally required, some doctoral programs may include a practicum or internship.


Bachelor of Science in Structural Engineering or Civil Engineering

Programs feature both required and elective math and engineering courses in addition to general education coursework in the arts, social sciences, English and foreign languages. Both structural and civil engineering programs at this level take four years to complete, and may have online and on-campus class options. There are also a few combined bachelor's and master's degree programs that take five years to complete, which is less time than it would take to do them separately. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET Inc., is the primary accrediting agency for scholastic and professional engineering programs. Bachelor's programs require a GED or high school diploma, standardized test scores, and a complete application for admission.

Typical core topics are:

  • Calculus and physics
  • Fundamentals of engineering and design
  • History of construction
  • Hydrology, geology and foundation engineering
  • Structural analysis and concrete structure design
  • Construction management

Master of Science in Structural Engineering or Civil Engineering

Whether structural engineering is the focus or specialization of a master's degree program, coursework is similar and often takes two years to complete through in-person or distance-education means. Some programs provide the option to submit a thesis or other final projects. Combined programs exist but at the master's degree level, blending such fields as architecture and structural engineering; graduation may take longer than for students in single-focus programs. Master's degree programs require candidates to hold bachelor's degrees in a related field and submit GRE scores; additionally, some schools may prefer candidates with professional experience.

Required engineering and math courses can teach research principles, design concepts and advanced usage of construction materials. The list below identifies some areas of study:

  • Structural analysis and design
  • Structural engineering for aeronautics
  • Seismology, structural engineering and structural mechanics
  • Design of concrete structures and advanced concrete, wood and metal design principles
  • Determining reliability and risk in structural design
  • Hydrologic and geologic principles in structural engineering

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Doctoral Degrees in Structural Engineering

Students may obtain a Doctor of Philosophy in Structural Engineering or Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. The primary purpose of both degree programs is to develop student's capabilities for independent, in-depth research and to contribute substantive original information to the professional body of knowledge.

Doctoral programs usually require a master's degree and GRE scores; some require an entrance exam. Classes can be taken on-campus or online, or a combination of both. Even when programs primarily offer online classes, they may require candidates spend time on campus for residency or internships. Class work takes 3-4 years to complete, but completing and defending a dissertation, final projects or practicum experience adds additional time.

Ph.D. programs usually offer classes in advanced structural engineering theory, research, and areas of specialization. Typical class topics include:

  • Structural analysis and design of complete dynamic systems
  • Multivariate dynamic load modeling
  • Environmental efficiency in structural design and engineering
  • Advanced chemical and physical research of construct ion materials
  • Structural engineering and seismology
  • Designing smart buildings

Popular Careers

Jobs that graduates with bachelor's or master's degrees typically find include:

  • Junior or associate engineers
  • Architect or designers assistants
  • Draftsmen or construction project managers
  • Structural engineering instructors, trainers and teachers
  • Contractors or analysts or consultants
  • Construction project managers or engineering design researchers

Continuing Education

Every state and the District of Columbia require engineers to obtain licenses before offering their services directly to the public. The licensing process can be completed in stages, and the bachelor's degree from an accredited program is one part of the first step. The other parts are four years of professional and relevant work experience and passing a state examination. Subsequent steps can be completed as the engineer obtains professional experience and earns advanced degrees. Certificates exist in specialized areas and certification programs can be found with professional organizations such as the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA).

Many individuals continue to pursue a doctorate in structural engineering after completing a master's degree program. They may also take individual classes for continuing-education units to aid in state licensing and professional certification from the NCSEA.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment for civil engineers, a category that includes structural engineers, to grow by 8% over the decade of 2014-2024. Furthermore, the BLS reported that median annual salary for civil engineers was $82,220 in May 2015.

Bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. programs in structural engineering provide students with a solid foundation in structural design, mechanics and construction management. Higher-level degrees offer sub-disciplines in structural aeronautics, transportation, mechanics or environmental efficiency.

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